Category Archives: discipleship

Spiritual Angioplasty

I came into this week thinking it would be a normal one (as normal as a week during Covid in California can be). But as I sit here on my couch this morning, I feel like the Lord has begun to perform the equivalent of an angioplasty in my soul.

When arteries are clogged due to the slow build up of cholesterol (whether inherited, induced by habit, or the common combination of both), doctors often perform an angioplasty.  A small catheter is placed into the artery and then a ballooning technique is used to stretch and reopen the artery so that more blood can flow through it.

If you asked me even on Monday if I was aware of racism in the world and its roots in my own heart, I would have said yes and been honest in saying so; however, after a week of hard conversations and convicting moments with the Lord, I feel like I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with multiple clogged arteries of the soul.

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I didn’t realize how little I have listened to my friends who are people of color or even asked about their experiences with racism. I have been open to conversations, but I have not initiated them; rather, I have expected them to come to me and open up about hard things. Even that exposes a position of power in my heart that I did not realize I have had.  This spiritual artery needs some unclogging.

I have failed to address the significant shaping power of culture in spiritual development and discipleship. As one who loves to address family of origin with those I disciple, I have largely missed the culture of origin level in discipleship. As such, I have unintentionally shown my disciples that I am interested in most of their lives, but not all of it. This spiritual artery needs some ballooning.

I have been tempted to be defensive, to point out all the ways that I have loved and engaged in the lives of my friends of color.  I felt misread and wrongly judged and overly generalized into a lump stereotype. Until I realized that those exact feelings are only a tiny sliver of what my friends of color have been experiencing daily for most of their lives. Another clogged artery.

If am honest, I sat down to meet with the Lord this morning defeated and exhausted, exposed and sore. Until I remembered that it His great love for and commitment to me and His bride that He would appoint for me a spiritual angioplasty (or a series of them).

He won’t leave well enough alone (Philippians 1:6). He will not settle for anything less than Christ-likeness in His children (Galatians 4:19). He will not leave our soul’s arteries clogged with even unintentional narrow-mindedness and partially working flow of the Spirit. He will look right through us with His gently exposing gaze and will flag every place where the flow of His Spirit through us is clogged or limited.

He will painfully insert His Word into us and will stretch us in ways that feel uncomfortable (Hebrews 4:12-13). He will make space in us to contain love for His entire body. And all of this is for our good, the good of the body, and the good of the world and His glory.

I want a heart that fully functions. I want a heart that is unclogged and wide open, not constricted and strained. I want to look like my Father whose heart is expansive; I want to be shaped to be like the Son whose blood was literally poured out for the world. This will only happen by the surgical expertise of the Holy Spirit within me. While He is always ready to do His healing work, He does not force or coerce. He allows circumstances that reveal just how clogged our hearts have become. He waits for consent and readiness in His patients.

Please be tender with the hearts of those around you. Surgeries, both minor and major, are happening all around you.

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire”

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

 

The Widest Why

Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp systems and a doctor of psychology, found his statement to be decidedly true, even among some of the worst circumstances known in modern human history.

While I had set aside Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, deciding the honest content too intense for me when I began reading it months ago, the recent COVID-19 situation bid me pick it back up. While being confined to our homes is by no means the same as the atrocities of the concentration camps, we can learn from those who have experienced far more isolation and pain than many of us will ever experience, even in the time of COVOD-19.

Humans need a why, especially in the psychological and emotional strain of not knowing how long a certain experience will last. Again, being safe at home to shelter-in-place is lightyears away from the concentration camp experience; however, both fit into the concept of a “provisional existence of unknown limit.”

Frankl and another doctor from the camps both noted that the death rate between Christmas 1944 and New Year’s 1945 was the highest from any of the other previous years, citing the following as an explanation:

“The explanation for this increase did not lie in the harder worker conditions or the deterioration of our food supplies or a change of weather or the new epidemics. It was simply that the majority of prisoners had lived in the naive hope that  they would  be home again by Christmas. As the time drew near and there was no encouraging news,  the prisoners lost courage and disappointment overcame them.”

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Frankl noted that those prisoners who were able to connect their life to a future meaning, varied as that might be for each person, were the most able to survive the camps. For some it was a wife waiting to be reunited with him, for others, it was the finishing of scientific studies or a child whom he had promised to see on the other side.

However, he also reported a deep disappointment, even after liberation, when those future hopes were either thwarted or found and found wanting. Often times, the why that had carried them through near starvation, psychological stripping, and inhuman conditions were not enough to hold up life and hope on the other side of the camps.

All that to say, we need a why. But we need a why that can hold the weight of the varied experiences of our human existence.

While I have many minor and a few major why’s for my existence, my hope can only be wrapped up in the widest why: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

On the other side of this pandemic, if our why is anything less than being made into the image of Christ, we may be disappointed.

In the midst of the unimaginable nightmare that had become his existence, Job, who lived before the Cross of Christ invaded human history with lasting hope, had a fuzzy sense of hope.

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand, when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I  do not see him. But he knows the way I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:8-10). 

While we can be certain that Job hoped to see a rebuilt home, a healed body,  and a new family on the other side of his tremendous trials, his deeper hope was that he would be changed.

Believers who live on the other side of the Cross have a much clearer hope. While we do not know how long we will be in this strange COVID reality or how our families and friends will be effected, we do know that, if we cooperate with His Spirit, we can look more like Christ on the other side of this “provisional existence of unknown limit.”

We are invited by Paul to make our widest why to gain Christ and be found more deeply in Him.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of  all things that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings,  becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8 & 10).

 

The Difference Between Submission & Resignation

“There is a significant difference between submission and resignation.”

I don’t remember the full details of the context, but I will never forget the phrase uttered our dear friend and mentor, Judge Bill McCurine. I believe we were having a college gathering in their home, a chance for brand new believers in the beginning of their spiritual journeys to learn from two seasoned veterans of the faith. I believe someone asked about trusting God with singleness. To be honest, I am thankful I don’t remember the immediate context, because the phrase has led to rich application in nearly every arena of my life.

The Difference Defined
According to the Oxford Dictionary,  resignation means, “the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.”  In fact, the usage example says “i.e. a shrug of resignation.”

I, along with the rest of the Chick-fil-A loving hordes, sigh in resignation every Sunday when we, like clockwork, have a craving for a sandwich and waffle fries, only  to remember it is closed on Sunday.

On the surface, resignation bends the will, changes the schedule, and faces the reality of something unwanted; however, under the surface, at the soul and heart level, it can leave an insidious residue of bitterness, distrust, and frustration. Much like the teenage, “Fine” that is accompanied by huffing, puffing, and foot-stomping, resignation bows but does not fully trust.

Submission, on the other hand, is something altogether different. While they may appear almost identical initially, the degrees of separation between resignation and submission become more evident over time.

Biblical submission is much different than the world’s version which seems often to include force and demonstrations of raw authority and power. The Greek word, hupotasso, translated submit, is a compounding of two words, one meaning “under” and the other meaning “arrangement.” Thus, a biblical definition of submission is to place yourself under God’s arrangement of things, to submit under the Lord’s plan in trusting obedience.

While its outward bowing and releasing of control mirror resignation,  its internal source is quite different. Rather than sighing out of inability to change something, it sighs and submits in a trusting way,  believing that the heart of God knows and does better than we could ever know or do.

The Difference Experienced
If  I am being honest, I my soul has been swinging back and forth between resignation and submission these past few weeks since COVID-19 settled in to stay. If you know me, you know that my Sabbath time on Sundays is my lifeline.  Since my oldest was a  few weeks old,  I have been escaping away to a coffee shop for vital connection with God through His word and prayer and wrestling. As silly as it may seem, the getting away feels like going to a secret place to be alone with the Lord, not as a mother or a women’s ministry director or a wife, just as his desperate daughter.

Another example of my routine being off. I resigned to Sabbath by walking our neighborhood, but I was not happy about it, as evidenced by my pace and posture. A fuming little teapot speed-walking through the neighborhood was I. It was not just the monkey wrench in my treasured Sabbath rhythm, it was all of  it.  Disinfecting groceries, Zoom phone calls instead of face-to-face gatherings, tight spaces and tighter wallets.

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But in that walk, the Lord reminded me that this is not what trusting submission looks like. He began to undo my  grumpy heart and remind me of the absolutely proven nature of his love.

Stay

The too-much-ness out there,
Draws out ineptness in here.
What busyness used to filter,
Now gathers in latent fear.

Your love blocked all my exits,
Enticing my going soul to stay.
Fleeting flings aren’t enough:
You would have me all the day.

It’s scary to sit so still, so long,
Without demand or distraction.
You want uninsulated intimacy,
The whole of me, not a fraction.

This blocking love can be trusted,
Even if the checking seems unchecked,
For You died to unblock life eternal,
Giving abundance for my neglect.

Though chosen,  I feel choice-less,
Yet an important choice remains;
Resign in apathy or submit in love.
Your submission my choice trains.

So, stay I must but I also shall,
Living within lines You’ve drawn.
And come again You can and will.
Your coming is sure as the dawn.

May we learn to submit this season to a trustworthy Father rather than resign in avowed apathy.  This too shall pass.

Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. Psalm 31: 21.

 

Common Ground & Uncommon Hope

In a matter of weeks, the world, once divided on a thousand fronts (party lines, economic lines, national borders, and imaginary borders), has found a great amount of common ground. I revel in the fact that we recognize that we are all in this together. I teared up reading stories of Chinese doctors flying to Italy with supplies and experience after having pushed backed this disease in their nation. I love that our neighborhood email thread has stopped being about which way to vote on propositions and become a bartering station instead. I wonder at the fact that people seem to be seeing each other as fellow people rather than economic units or potential sales.

Yet I fear that we will forget that in the midst of common ground, we also have an uncommon hope.

I keep forgetting that while we are in this together, my neighbors most likely do not have a lasting and living hope that can weather this storm and bring them to safe harbor eternally. While we can and should laugh together about silly songs and toilet paper memes, we cannot stay there. We must point them from our common ground to our uncommon hope.

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Remember Your Uncommon Hope

In Romans 8, in the context of the children of God groaning inwardly as they wait eagerly full adoption, Paul reminds the believers in Rome that hope, by nature, is unseen.

For in his hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25). 

Now, more than ever before, as our culture bends to an unseen virus, we have grounds  to talk about unseen, but powerfully shaping realities. But before we can offer our unseen hope, we must be shaped by it ourselves. We must remember our living hope.

The apostle Peter who had known Christ as a living man was devastated to watch him die (even if it was likely from afar). He was astonished to see him alive once again, never more to die again. It seems he had this Resurrected Jesus in mind when he wrote to a flagging church that was weighed down by suffering and trials. After his brief introduction to the elect exiles of the dispersion, he immediately reminds them of their living hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living  hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead  (1Peter 1:3). 

Hope in a vaccine, while a good hope, is a not a living hope. Hope in global humanitarian efforts, while appropriate in their right place, is not a living hope. While these will do good work to rescue bodies, they have no power to save souls. None of these hopes can deliver us from the penalty of death, none of them can walk us through the passageway of death to an eternal hope.

The living hope of the Resurrected Christ should be the anthem of the church. As Pope John Paul II so powerfully said,  “We are an Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

Recommend Your Uncommon Hope

I have been convicted about the short sentences that I have been exchanging with our walking neighbors (at an appropriate social distance, of course). I have done an excellent job recognizing common ground by saying things like “This is crazy, isn’t it? Let me know if you guys need anything!” or asking “Are y’all staying sane over there?” However, I want to think proactively about questions or prompts that could lead to deeper conversations or further follow up.

While this may sound formulaic and unnatural to some, intentionality and preparation are tools we use in nearly every other area of life. After all, we are not opposed to thinking intentionally about Instagram posts or tweets. A similar preparation for business meetings or sales pitches is celebrated, not ridiculed. How much more thoughtful should we be when dealing with far more lasting matters: human souls that will live eternally.

If we are dealing with living hope rather than social influencing or sales numbers,  it seems we would do well to be prepared. These are my best attempts at hinge sentences that might lead to a dialogue about hope.

  • “My family and I are using some of this extra time to pray more often. How can we pray for you?”
  • “How are you processing all of this right now? What is helping you cope with all this upheaval?”
  • “I did not grow up in a religious household, but God intervened in my life in college and brought me into a relationship with him. That relationship shapes all of my life and gives me a lasting hope. I would love to share more of my story with you if you ever want to hear it. I would also love to hear more of your spiritual journey.”

Whatever your style, it is the privilege and calling of all believers to move into common ground offering an uncommon hope.

The Squeeze and the Savior

While I have never been diagnosed with textbook claustrophobia, I hate tight places. Elevators, tunnels and all other small spaces make my heart race and my palms sweat. I can rescue a child from the Chick-fil-A playplace blackhole like the best of them, but other than that, I try my hardest to avoid squishy, smushy places in the external world.

Similarly, my soul hates tight, restricting places and situations. With the exception of contortionists, I believe that most humans share my sentiments to varying degrees of intensity. Humans try to avoid being squeezed. Continue reading

The Magnifying Glass of Motherhood

Aleksandr Solzhneitsyn said of his prison cell in the Russian gulag that it taught him how to run a magnifying glass over life.

Not the perspective one would expect from a man falsely-imprisoned in one of the most cruel prison systems in history.

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made
to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.” Continue reading

How the Local Church Can Shine in a Global Pandemic

As I sat down this morning with extra time on my hands from cancelled meetings and appointments, I found my soul stalled out. It seems the incredible amount of statistical information and news stories have left me (and most people, I would presume) paralyzed.

Graphs of flattening curves and comparisons between countries who have responded well or poorly to COVID-19 kept flashing to the forefront of my mind. As such, I was having a hard time knowing how to pray. Continue reading